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GRCC alum, military-aviation pioneer Mildred Doyle dies

GRCC photo: Mildred "Jane" Doyle

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.  —  Grand Rapids Community College is extending condolences to the family of the college’s 2018 Distinguished Alumna.

GRCC says military-aviation pioneer and Congressional Gold Medal winner Mildred “Jane” Doyle died Friday at age 97. Doyle attended what was then Grand Rapids Junior College in 1940. She was part of the elite Women Airforce Service Pilots during World War II. She and the other WASP aviators flew stateside missions for the military to free up male pilots for overseas combat.

Says GRCC President Bill Pink in a news release, “Jane Doyle said attending Grand Rapids Junior College in 1940 changed her ‘whole life’ — and what an amazing life it was. Jane was a military aviation pioneer, putting her life on the line to serve her country. Hers is a story of determination, bravery and sacrifice. We share our heartfelt condolences with her family, and she will continue to inspire GRCC students for years to come.”

According to the college, fewer than 2,000 volunteers were accepted into the WASP program. Among their responsibilities was transporting aircraft, equipment and personnel, as well as performing test flights on planes that had undergone repairs.

GRCC says Doyle said in a 2014 interview that “Junior College changed my whole life — my whole plan.” In an engineering class, the instructor announced that GRJC President Arthur Andrews had received federal approval to run a Civilian Pilot Training program.

“They said they’d let one girl in for every nine fellows, so I had to pass a physical and I got into the flying program that summer,” Doyle said.

After completing the program, she transferred to U of M, according to GRCC. She earned a bachelor’s degree in architecture and interior design in 1943 — while keeping up her flying time with the Civil Air Patrol.

After graduating, Doyle joined the Women Airforce Service Pilots. According to the news release:

“After the WASP program was disbanded in December 1944, she worked with visually impaired children for a few years and then for Aquinas College, all the while raising her five children.

Doyle and the other WASP members received military veteran status in 1977. In 2010, she and the other surviving pilots were honored with the Congressional Gold Medal. She was the last living WASP in Michigan, according to Texas Women’s University, home to the organization’s archives.

Doyle received the Distinguished Alumna Award during GRCC’s 2018 commencement, to the accompaniment of a standing ovation from the graduates.”

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